His lawsuit is backed by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).
The diversity office at the university has developed language for professors to use to “acknowledge that our campus sits on occupied land” and be “more inclusive.”
“The University of Washington acknowledges the Coast Salish peoples of this land, the land that touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Suquamish, Tulalip, and Muckleshoot nations,” reads an example statement from the university diversity office.
Computer science Professor Stuart Reges refused. He first criticized the practice in a December 8, 2021, email to faculty and wrote his own acknowledgement in a January 3 version of his syllabus.
“I acknowledge that by the labor theory of property the Coast Salish people can claim historical ownership of almost none of the land currently occupied by the University of Washington,” he defiantly wrote, channeling English philosopher John Locke.
The next day, the director of the computer science department, Magdalena Balazinska, ordered Reges to take the statement out of the syllabus, saying it created “a toxic environment” while calling it “inappropriate” and “offensive.”
Refusing again, Reges said that the request discriminated against his viewpoint. The university then began an investigation into Reges for “harassment.” Reges explained:
“University administrators turned me into a pariah on campus because I included a land acknowledgment that wasn’t sufficiently progressive for them. Land acknowledgments are performative acts of conformity that should be resisted, even if it lands you in court.”
According to FIRE, Balazinska created a similar course to compete with Reges’s, seemingly to poach students from his class.
Reges, with the help of FIRE, is suing on First Amendment grounds.
“As a public institution bound by the First Amendment, UW must uphold its professors’ right to free speech and cannot discriminate against them based on viewpoint,” a press release from FIRE reads.
FIRE attorney Katlyn Patton said:
It’s ironic that a university whose motto is ‘let there be light’ would shepherd students into a shadow course to shield them from a professor’s opinion. If UW encourages professors to take a political stance on their syllabi, it cannot punish those professors who diverge from the school’s pre-approved stance. At UW, the message to faculty is clear: Toe the party line or say goodbye to your students.
The case is Reges v. Cauce, et al., No. 2:22-cv-00964, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.